By Nishtha Duggal
Despite the madness that comes in the form of congestion, Manali in Himachal Pradesh remains one the favourite hill stations of the north in India. It has something to offer to the regular holidayers, the drifters, trekkers or expat wanderers. Old Manali, as I discovered, has a beautiful side to it that is mostly popular with the foreigner lot for the gypsy and creative vibe that it offers. That, plus great deals. My crazy bunch of backpacker friends chose this destination for the old town romance.
Our pockets did not allow us a fancy stay. Stay in Manali for a longer period can cause a big dent in the pocket for any backpacker, or even a mid-budget traveller. It being the peak season, the youth hostels were all pre-booked. So we were left with no choice but to go offbeat.
That cottage in Prini
About 4 kms from the Manali bridge, on the Vasisht side of the river, is this beautiful little hamlet called Prini. During the peak tourist season, covering this stretch easily becomes equivalent to, say, 10 km. Save for the first day, when we got to the village, we would often walk the stretch out.
Prini while being on the busy Vasisht side is thankfully untouched by the madness of main Manali. You can easily find some nice cottages for your stay that are comparatively well priced. It was quite by luck that we chanced upon Golden Meadows, a cottage space run by a local.
After a quick scan of the rooms, our bunch of four decided to go for the attic in the cottage. The space turned out to be a steal deal. With two rooms to offer, it came with a small smoking area with a chimney installed to keep any fumes out! Equipped with big windows that opened to the beautiful views of the mountains, a wooden pitched roof, a small open pantry and a classic French window by the bed, the aesthetics of the space were classic and yet designed to meet the contemporary guest requirements. It was difficult not to get hooked to wakeup calls by roosters and mooing of the cows. How I loved my morning cup of black coffee in the balcony there facing the lush green!
Also read: Where to stay in Almora, Uttarakhand
Traversing the lanes of Old Manali
Manali is divided into two parts – the old and the new. While the new town is a hit with regular Indian tourists, what with its fancy resorts and sightseeing spaces, it is the Old Manali where the boho foreign lot lands. This part is particularly famous for its quaint cafes, old silver and hippie thrift shops. I am going to share with you is my list of five cafes that had me going back, not once but several times, for the duration of my stay.
- Sunshine Café: Being one with a sweet tooth, a dessert place is what I would like to open my list with. Famous for its dreamy most Hot Chocolate and Milky Bar paranthas, the place is run by a young Sikh, Sunny and his foreigner wife. The décor was basic, with plastic furniture and no glass for windows! Flag-style curtains made up for the cover to be drawn later at night. The café serves some really mean and juicy burgers.
- The Lazy Dog café: This one’s for those with slightly deeper pockets. The décor of the place is charming English with attention to details. Split in two, a part of it is housed by the riverside with an open bar serving exotic cocktails. The indoors is cosy with warm lighting, wooden furniture and big windows. The food at the place is a mix of Thai, Italian and Japanese. From the menu, I would definitely recommend their Thai Red curry!
- Café Rendez-vous: Talking of Italian, I absolutely loved Café Rendez-vous for its woodfired pizza and absolutely dreamy Americano. The café houses an open kitchen and a small enclosed area that doubled up as a bar and a working space for those who wish to stay indoors. The rest of the café is about outdoors with wooden tables and chairs with beach umbrellas that made for the covering. A small candle placed in the middle of the table made for a great effect at night. The café also extensively uses fairy lights that turn the place into a magical one.
- Drifter’s Inn & café: If you love some real good music, Thursday night is when you must visit this joint. It was quite by chance, we discovered this space. For me, it was a quest for a decent coffee that pulled me to the space. The café was quite empty when we landed there at about 6 pm. Half an hour later we saw the café transform into a busy hangout with a live band performing sufi music that had everyone grooving! Quite an experience.
- Rose Café: This one really is not a part of the Old Manali lot. Actually housed along the main road leading to Vasisht temple and falls. Run by an Englishwoman, it is actually a terrace garden turned into café space surrounded by overgrown rose bushes and other native greens. The café offers only six to seven covers that are made up of outdoor furniture. Slightly expensive on the pocket, the cafes serves some really amazing organic food. Must try their trout fish and Tiramisu.
This list comprises my top ones and does not sum up the café experiences in Manali. There is much to explore and talk about. No amount of words can do justice to how beautiful the experience was as I watched the river flow and heard the mountains echo of the billowing winds when I walked down the forest that lay between the main town and my little stay in Prini, daily. Walk here you must!